Our old buddy Pat has just come out of heart surgery. He’s 79. It happens. He’s making a full recovery. Here’s what the doctors did to save his life.
Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, underwent…a new approach to dealing with atrial fibrillation, called convergence procedure. It involves cauterizing the continually beating heart muscle with heat generated by a radio frequency. It rewires a portion of the heart, in a sense, to correct the irregular beat.
…The technique is less invasive than traditional surgery and more effective long-term than drugs and their many side effects.
In a separate but related procedure, doctors also removed an abnormally enlarged left appendage on Robertson’s heart. They believe the growth contributed to Robertson’s atrial fibrillation.
And here’s who gets the credit.
“Only the prayers of thousands of believing people kept me on this earth,” Robertson said in a statement.
Yeah, I know, typical. Medical science that didn’t exist 20 years ago keeps some old superstitious codger breathing, and he only has thanks for his imaginary friend in the sky and the prayers that presumably winged their way skyward to him. Right. But that isn’t what this post is about. It’s about something else very revealing in Robertson’s statement.
At 79, Pat Robertson, perhaps the leading evangelist in all of American Christendom, is afraid to die.
I mean, think of it. If you really, truly believed in Christianity’s promise of Heaven — a perfect paradise free of woe, strife, pain, fear, sadness, queers and liberals — wouldn’t the prospect of finally getting to go there be the happiest news you could possibly receive? Really, I cannot imagine anything happier. That is, if you really, in your heart of hearts, believed in its existence and in your guarantee of a place there. Not to get into a “No True Christian” discussion here, but it seems to me that, whatever your stripe of Christianity — conservative or liberal, Baptist or Lutheran, Methodist or Presbyterian, Pentacostal or snake-handling wacko — if you genuinely believed in Heaven, then the prospect of death should not only not be fearful, but cause for celebration. A diagnosis of terminal illness should be occasion for a blowout “I’m Goin’ To Heaven” party, a big sendoff to your great reward! All Christian funerals should be like New Orleans funerals, with marching bands and dancing revelers, not tears.
But listen to Pat. He isn’t saying, “Dammit! Here I was, all ready to go to Heaven and be by my Lord’s side for all eternity at last…and you bozos had to go and start praying your little fingers off, and now I’m stuck here! Thanks for nothing.”
No, Pat’s grateful for the
medical science prayers that kept him hanging onto this vale of tears just a little bit longer.
Why? Does he really believe in Heaven after all? Really believe, deep down inside…?
Matt Dillahunty has often argued on the show, and I agree, that most Christians, when backed against the wall, are more agnostic than they’re willing to admit. That, in all likelihood, they do not truly believe that which they profess to believe about God and Christianity’s promises. It’s not a new argument. David Hume made it. But it’s moments like these, interesting little moments when a Christian leader of Pat Robertson’s stature reveals in a public statement that death frightens him, that make the point far more effectively and eloquently than we atheists can.
I know many of you have heard of the Kübler-Ross model of the “five stages of grief”: denial, anger, negotiation, despair and acceptance. Look, none of us really wants to die. It’s part of our evolutionary hardwiring, that innate instinct for self-preservation. But when you don’t have the deceptive promises of religion hampering you, as an atheist, you find that you tend to get through these stages rather quickly when contemplating your own mortality. I have not really met any atheists wracked with existential despair over the fact that one day they too shall pass. Not to say there are none, but there are fewer than you’d think for a group of people who are skeptical of an afterlife. This fact often flummoxes Christian apologists, who are often overconfident in thinking that exploiting fear of death will make witnessing to atheists a cakewalk.
The problem with religion is that clinging to a belief in a heavenly afterlife effectively stymies the process at the “bargaining” phase. You spend your entire life in a desperate, daily attempt to please a God, in the hopes that, while he certainly won’t stave off physical death, he will keep you “spiritually” immortal.
I don’t think that the fear of death is necessarily the #1 selling point for religion. But the desire to avoid death, to believe that when you die you don’t, and that you’ll see all your departed loved ones once again on that rainbow bridge, is most assuredly something that religion puts in heavy rotation on its playlist of promises. And for some believers, I guess it can work. Until that moment that death is no longer abstract, but looming.